Coleman Lantern Heat Cheaper

In an earlier posting we found that, thanks to the rising prices of electricity in California, it was now cheaper to “camp” at home in terms of cooking. That using a “camp stove” or Charcoal BBQ was cheaper than my All Electric Kitchen.

Well, it’s winter now, and the mind turns to pondering cold.

I have a little “roll around electric oil filled heater” that takes between 600 and 1500 Watts depending on settings. We tend to use them in individual rooms so the whole house doesn’t need heating in the dead of night or when it’s just me at home. (The main furnace is natural gas. In a sane world the two prices would be tightly coupled as we make a lot of electricity from natural gas in California. Gas turbines being more politically acceptable than nuclear or coal. Unfortunately, that is no longer true.)

I’ve also talked about how I swap to incandescent bulbs in the winter for their combined heat and light. Since I need both, it is a feature to have a ‘light making heater’ in winter.

So I got to wondering…

I’ve got a Coleman Dual-Fuel Lantern. It uses gasoline. Is that source of “light and heat” more, or less, expensive than using electricity for heat?

I can’t guarantee these numbers are exactly right. I’ve only “run the spreadsheet twice”. But they look about right.

Gasoline, here, costs about $4 per gallon. Right now it is down about $3.75 but a while ago it was $4.10 or so. BTU / gallon (yes, I”m going to use traditional units. I’m familiar with them and they ‘work well’ with the local units of sale.) for gasoline ranges from about 114,000 for the “old regular” down to 111,800 for the “new improved” gas. I’m using 111,000.

Using an online unit calculator I get about 32 kW-hrs per gallon of gasoline. (32.5322…) That is from here: after some conversions.

OK, our electricity ranges from about 20 cents to 30 cents per k-W/hr as you go up the traunches of usage. As winter electric heat is all ‘at the margin’ and ‘at the high usage end’, it costs the most. (The rate structure ‘going forward’ has it headed to $0.5 Real Soon Now).

So one quick “cross check” is just “what is that gasoline worth as just electric-heat-equivalents?” EHEs? Take your 32 kW-hrs and multiply by 1/5 or 0.3 $/kW-hr. I get $6.40 at the low end. $9.60 at the high end.

111,000 BTU / 400 = 277.5 BTU / penny.

1 kW-hr * 3412 BTU/kW-hr = 3412 BTU. At 20 cents, that’s 170 BTU / penny.

At 30 cents electricity, it is 114 BTU / penny.

Unless I’ve “screwed the pooch” somewhere on this, I get 1.63 times as many BTU per penny in a gallon of (poor) gasoline than in electricity. Even at my lowest possible rate. Over double at the higher rate ( 2.4 times ). That is including the rather high taxes on gasoline here in California. The economics would be even better with Diesel or Kerosene at similar prices as they have more BTU / gallon.

So using my Coleman Gasoline Camping Lantern for combined “heat and light” in winter is a very economical proposition. Now. At my very lowest usage traunch. At the 30 cent upper range of now, it’s even more profitable. At the “soon” 50 cent costs, well…


Don’t Panic!

Now before a load of folks run off in a panic to tell me all about carbon monoxide and starts quoting how many people a year kill themselves with charcoal inside the home and how gas light has the same problems and…

I know that already.

The point of this is not that I’m planning on running an unvented combustion heater inside my bedroom and go to bed.

The point is that it is highly economical to do so, so somebody will.

(Me? I’ll likely play with a lantern while staying awake, and with our usual ‘somewhat open window’ with an inch or more open on each side of the house. However, when we “button up” during very cold snaps, or anytime I’m not standing up and moving around, well, that furnace works just fine…)

Also, we DID have ‘gas lights’ back in the 1800s, they are a workable technology. Heck, some of them even ran on “producer gas” that WAS Carbon Monoxide with Hydrogen in it. (Thus the stereotypical vision of committing suicide by ‘sticking your head in the oven’… it doesn’t work with natural gas ovens…) Yes, homes were ‘drafty’ then. Kind of like mine…

(In California, we don’t have double pane windows. We don’t have weather stripping to speak of. Heck, the house didn’t even have insulation when I bought it. I had to blow insulation into the attic and walls.)

So while part of me is dreaming and imagining installing some gas lights in the kitchen and living room… natural gas costing even less than gasoline… mostly I’m just peeved that it IS the most economical solution.

I wonder if anyone has a ‘vented gas light’ for sale?…

But I know I won’t do it. It’s just so much easier to flip the switch on the ‘roll around’ heater. At least I know the reason why kerosene heaters sell so fast at the local Home Depot.

In any case, for heating drafty places like the garage or patio, or even for some less ‘open’ spaces, it is clearly a much more economical solution to buy a kerosene or gasoline heater (or heck, even those propane ‘radiant heaters’ as propane costs less than gasoline here).

Not only is cooking, but also heating, priced out of the electricity market here. Things that make you go “Hmmmm…” and there are easy ways to get light for free out of heating. Hmmmmm…..

I can easily envision a small wall mounted appliance that has a quartz tube with a mantle inside. Flip a switch, it electronically lights. Now you have a nice room light (with a vent to the outside for gases from inside the tube) that also puts a dandy amount of heat into the space. Yes, only useful when cold, but for many places that is a lot of the time. From Alaska down to about the California Border…

I’d love to have one of these in the garage, for example:

Solar-rechargeable battery-powered gas light controllers can be easily retrofitted into existing gas lamps to keep the lights off during daylight hours and cut energy consumption and green-house gas carbon emissions by 50%.

If one can be “solar powered” it can also be “on a switch”…

They have a picture of a ‘modern’ lamp as well:

Modern use of interior gas lighting

Modern use of interior gas lighting

And In Other Places?

I think this may well also explain why so many places do still use gas lanterns. Places where electricity is just ‘not worth it’. If we are rapidly making California a place where “electricity is just not worth it”, are we headed to being a place that looks just like those “3rd world” places?

I’m thinking “yes”. Heck, I like the ambiance of “old timey lanterns” and lamps. Now that I know they are more economical too…. Well, I think I may well find where that old Aladdin Kerosene mantle lantern went off to in the garage. has an interesting banner at the moment:

WINTER SALE! Keep warm this winter in the bright light of your Aladdin Lamp.

Lots of items on our “READY TO SHIP PAGE” are in stock now.

In rather large bright red type. Somehow I think it has not been lost on them that the heat is a feature…

I’d not at all mind that as the “room light” when watching TV. I’d not even mind having a camping lantern used in the Garage (and would welcome the radiant heat during the winter) nor would I even mind (much) getting my small 1 mantel propane lantern out and using it while washing dishes. (Usually done with the window in front of me open a half inch or so to take ‘kitchen smells’ away during cleanup…)

With a h/t to John F. Hultquist:

Rise in Use of Firewood to Heat Homes Causing Deforestation

The deep economic crisis Greece faces as the recession enters its fourth year, as well as the new fuel taxes introduced by the government, have caused a sharp increase in the price of heating fuel.

The arrival of winter, coupled with record prices for fuel and the fact that household budgets have decreased, has forced tens of thousands of families across Greece to turn off their central heating.

As a result, the old wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have seen a revival, creating a lucrative market for legal importers and salesmen of firewood, but even more so for illegal loggers who collect and sell their product without a permit.

These illegal practices are causing serious damage to Greece’s forests. Deforestation has become a real problem – particularly since the start of December – due to illegal logging, the forest service of the Ministry for the Environment reports. The official figures suggest that thousands of hectares of forest have already suffered severe damage.

Note that this is illegal. Poor folks who are cold don’t worry so much about legality. If they get arrested, it’s a warm bed and a free meal…

Picking up on a theme from Willis at WUWT; it is rich people who can afford things like electric heaters and un-cut forests. We are one EU / World Bank / overspending binge away from Greece. Spending like crazy and having energy costs ‘necessarily skyrocket’.

The result is folks in Greece cutting their trees to stay warm. And one ‘folk’ in California discovering it is cheaper to ‘camp in the living room’…

Greece, and now California, both on that short road back to “3rd World Nation” in terms of how we treat trees and electricity. Sacrificing nature on the altar of “Green Solar & Wind Gaia”…

I also expect that we’ll be seeing more deaths from folks using charcoal for heat, and kerosene heaters indoors. All due to driving electricity to where it will, to quote our president, “necessarily skyrocket”.

In my part of the State there is a ban on fireplaces in new homes. Older homes can keep them (for now…) but there are ‘no burn days’ that get ever more suspiciously in sync with when you would most like to use them. As I don’t “live on the local radio”, more than once I found out I’d used ours to keep the living room warm and pretty on a ‘no burn’ night. Now imagine a “poor folk” over in East Side… (The poor side of town is the east side). Think they will care about “no burn” days? These are the places you go to buy felony class drugs. Think they will care about running an unvented kerosene heater?

I think the necessary conclusion is pretty clear. Making electricity prices artificially high via ‘green mandates’ will result in trees being cut down, deaths from carbon monoxide, and some of us using gasoline more. I’d “had the hots” for a nice little natural gas co-generation unit from Honda. Now I’m realizing that a gasoline fired engine of any kind with a water cooling jacket and some added generators is worth it. I have 2 sitting in the yard. One is the ‘parts bike’ for the other. A 500 cc Honda Sliverwing with V-twin water cooled engine. Just needs plumbing and I’ve got a great little ‘3rd world class’ solution. It makes 12 VDC straight into the battery (add cord to large external battery) and a load of convenient hot water.

IFF I lived a bit more out in the country, I’d be doing that now just for fun (and for running the washer in the garage…).

I can’t be the only person who will think of this kind of thing. So that’s where we will go as a State, as a Greek Nation (or Greek Nation Lite), and as a world. The more we push for electricity out of line with low cost generation: the more we will cut trees, burn corn, burn gasoline and kerosene, and willfully ignore laws that say not to do it. That is what the reality on the ground says. That is what the history says. That’s just what happens.

End Notes On Coleman Lantern

My spreadsheet also includes some interesting numbers about that particular lantern. It holds 2 pints (US) or one quart. That is a 1/4 gallon (US) or $1 of gasoline. The value of that heat and light, at the projected $0.30 /kW-hr rate, is $2.68 per use. So just using my lantern, I can “make” $1.68 per ‘fill’. That runs for about 7 to 8 hours. As I’m ‘up late’ that’s about one whole evening. Call it 6 pm to 2 am. Over a month, that’s $50.

Now I’m willing to walk away from a free $50 a month. Maybe. But if I were a poorer person on the East Side? If I had a cabin in the hills where it is much colder and bills higher? When it is $100 or $150 per month? I can choose to use the gas heater more (screw it, just heat the whole damn house) and probably break even over the electric heaters. But can folks in the rest of New Greece?

How many will die?

How many trees will be murdered?

How many person-years of cold folks, looking at their power bill and choosing food or heat?

It’s just incredibly immoral and wrong to drive electricity prices up above the absolute minimum needed to deliver the most economical supply to the most poor of the world. That ought to be about 7 cents / kW-hr, not my present $0.26 nor the $.30 higher usage, nor the $0.50 “coming soon”.

At 7 cents, there are 487 BTU / penny. About 1.75 times the BTU/cent from gasoline. At THAT cost of electricity the trees stay alive, the gasoline stays in the ground, the kerosene heater is left in the box. People are warm, and not dying, and the world is just a much better place to live.

On the other hand, we may well see a resurgence in “Gas light”…

Now were is that Aladdin lamp…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW and Weather News Events, Political Current Events, World Economics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Coleman Lantern Heat Cheaper

  1. Chuck Johnson says:

    I have thought about supplimenting the heat in our basement with a non vented natural gas or propane fireplace.These are now an option because the unit comes with a built in carbon monoxide sensor to automatically shut the fireplace off if the carbon monoxide level rises.

  2. Michael Fox says:

    How about calculations for propane? Some Forest Service cabins in Eastern Oregon my wife and I have rented over the past few summers have had propane lanterns for light (and some heat!).

  3. John F. Hultquist says:

    Many years ago, my parents would take my sister and me to visit a Great Aunt. Her property had its own gas well, as many rural places did. By the 1950s most folks had converted to electric lights. Not this place. High on the walls (or so it seemed to me) were small globes of gas light. It was dim in the room and smelled a bit but I think she had long since given up cleaning. Our own home had coal heat when I was a baby but soon we had a heater with isinglass windows at the center of the house, a tiny one in the bath, and the range in the kitchen – all natural gas. A ritual of spring cleaning was to take gobs of dough-like material (absorene) and rub and roll it on all the inside walls. The dinginess would work into the glob and, if not too dirty, be used again the next spring.

    Just saying, I didn’t see a line in your spread sheet for absorene!

  4. Espen says:

    Regarding poverty and destruction of forests: After the Haiti earthquake I studied the island of Hispanica with Google Earth and discovered that it is very easy to find many parts of the border between Haiti and The Dominican Republic on satellite images simply by the color of the land – Haiti barely has any forest at all. A striking example of how a poor and ill managed land is unable to manage its environment.

  5. Bill McIntyre says:

    If you can use “piped in” natural gas, and a properly adjusted mantle lamp, you should get CO2 rather than CO1. Using “bottled gas” you can loose pressure without realizing it so that your adjustment “goes out of whack”

  6. j ferguson says:

    E.M. We don’t but some live-aboard friends have diesel fired hydronics heaters (little boliers). the smallest units – 6,500 btu – are about the size of cigar boxes, made by Espar to keep buses and trucks warm in the winter with the engines shut down. They need 12 volts to run small fan in the hot section and ignitors. I didn’t see it in your analysis, but you need to subtract the heat that goes up the flue from whatever you are using.. Suppose you heated your house with fuel oil?

    We had a heat pump and electrical resistance heating when we lived in Philadelphia. It was grossly more expensive than gas, which hadn’t found its way out the main line at the time. Heat pumps were a bad application in Philadelphia – too far north, but they’d been subsidized by the local utility in an effort to balance their load.

    boat has reverse-cycle air. instead of using it, we use number 2 diesel to move the boat to where the temperature is good – north in the summer, south in the winter. changes the scenery and neighbors, too.

  7. Gail Combs says:

    The solution is already commercial
    Monitor Vented Heaters uses oil or kerosene.

    Available in Southern Oregon at Medford Fuel

    …Easy Do-it-yourself installation. No ducting is required for the Monitor. No cutting holes in the roof, either! Monitor oil heaters are direct vented, requiring only a 2.5 inch hole in the wall to install the flue pipe. The flue is a “pipe within a pipe”: Fresh cold outside air enters the combustion chamber through the outer pipe, and exhaust is sent outdoors through the inside pipe, preheating the incoming cold air. To achieve maximum efficiency and ease of installation, the Monitor should be located adjacent to an exterior wall of the home. The shortest flue pipe possible provides the highest efficiency. If an interior wall must be used, an extension kit for the flue will be needed. If you are handy around the home, the typical stove installation should take one person about two hours…..

    They are about $3000 – $4000 so I expect the unvented Dyna-Glo 23000 BTU Convection Kerosene Heater available at Sam’s will be a much more likely candidate with those pinching pennies. Heck, I have one for emergencies, I bought at the flea market, but like you I use a couple of the “roll around electric oil filled heater” wool socks and a heavy sweater. We quit using the electric heat pump last year and knocked ~$200 off our winter electric bill. As long as we do not get a hard freeze for several day we do not have to worry about freezing pipes.(Unfortunately A/C is a bit harder to come up with a substitute for)

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Chuck Johnson:

    I’d not use propane in a basement. At 44 molecular weight, it’s heavier than air ( 28 nitrogen and 32 mol wt oxygen). So if you have a leak, it will ‘make a puddle’ and wait for a spark.

    I’ve lived on a boat, and many a boat has exploded from heavier than air fumes in the hull. That’s why I had Diesel, not gasoline (nearly no vaporizing) and a methanol stove not propane.

    Natural gas is light enough to leave a basement, but make sure there isn’t a really good seal on the space…

    Look up “Fuel Air Explosive”…

    @Michael Fox:

    It ought to be similar

    put it at about 92,000 BTU / gallon for Propane. So just take the gasoline numbers and multiply by 0.82 for BTU / gallon ratio. Sometimes propane is cheaper, but right now:

    shows it about the same to a touch higher than regular. So that straight BTU ratio does it for me. In your area you would need to price gasoline and propane and do that adjustment too. For me it is about 230 BTU / propane-cent. IF, as an example, propane were 3.50 that would be multiplied by 400/350 to give 262 BTU / propane-cent. The ratio being the gasoline price used above (400 cents) to the propane price per gallon in cents.

    So still a money maker, but not quite as much. Last summer propane was about $3 and gasoline was $4.20 or so; so it might change a lot depending on when you buy propane…

    @John F. Hultquist:

    Just rubbing it in, eh? ;-‘)

    I doubt my spouse would let me install anything with any smell. I can light a candle for just a moment, and blow it out, then 4 hours later she comes home and asks “Did you burn something?”…. Remember we always have some ventilation going on…


    Oh God Yes!


    @Bill Mcintyre:

    I do have piped gas (for the main furnace). So we could do the gas lights. I’m more likely to do some kind of co-generation, though. I need to research ‘micro-co-gen’…

    @J. Ferguson:

    Size of a cigar box? Golly! That would work rather well for my needs.

    As the Coleman lantern has no flue, I didn’t allow for any flue losses… A modern water heater can use PVC for the flue pipe, so a ‘serious’ installation would not have much of those losses left…

    At present, it’s looking like the “move the ship” option is the best one…. Maybe I’ll just relocate to a warm corner of Texas or Florida…

  9. John Robertson says:

    One way to depopulate a desirable land, is to drive the inhabitants out using economical means. Say an inside organizations driving the cost of living insanely high?
    This foolishness has reached the point where the benefits of cooperative action, shared wealth for common purposes , is lost.
    When our collective organization, the utility, can not provide electricity for less than one can do it themselves, civilization is under attack.

    Off topic, maybe.
    Was pondering what civilization is to me, insomnia to blame.
    Is it a shared illusion?
    If I believe I can trust the common institutions to protect my life and wealth, then I am free to build more.
    If I do not believe, then I put that energy into protecting me and mine.
    So a believable civilization, provides common benefit and increased productivity(new wealth)
    The political bureaucracy, there-fore has a measurable value.
    These are actors who we hire, to perform the roles necessary to maintain the illusion of civilization.
    Equality before the law, being the key-stone of this act.
    But these actors are performing a morality play, once they forget their roles, their value to the productive people who they live off of, falls rapidly.
    Right now, civilization is wobbling above the abyss, the dishonesty of our paid actors, the politicians and bureaucrats, is destroying the shared illusions that are necessary for cooperation and trust.
    My govt is costing me more than civilization is worth to me.
    Currently stealing more than self protection costs .
    Undermining the rule of law,violation of contracts, property theft by decree.
    Civilization is only skin deep, survival is instinct and humans adapt very quickly.
    This is the state of affairs that the CAGW scam, has revealed(rubbed my nose in it), the law of unintended consequences is inflexible, by attempting to empower and enrich themselves, a group of delusional people have attacked the foundation of our civilization.
    Malice or stupidity the reward will be the same.

    Current state of affairs the actors think they are the masters, they have become as rapacious as the wolves they were to help protect us from.
    Their cost exceeds the benefit.
    And they know this, so seek to ban self defence.
    The nonproductive believe they control production and that they are necessary for society to continue. I think they are mistaken.

  10. Bloke down the pub says:

    For those eco panty wetters who worry about all things nuclear, it should be remembered that gas mantles are often radio-active.

  11. EnergyMizer says:

    Another thing to consider is system efficiency. My propane fired furnace is rated @80% (I’m sure under ideal circumstances) and then there is the duct losses in the attic and heat distribution (for example closing a vent in a shut off unused room does not completely block the flow). Electric heat in this case, especially since it is put where it is needed and is nearly 100% efficient, paid for the cost of several ceramic heaters in 2 months with the furnace off. However, since then OG&E has put a tack-on charge of 0.03 per KWhr as a “fuel adjustment factor” (I’m guessing because of windmill installs) and the price of propane has dropped significantly since the natural gas boom. So today using electric for heat is still cheaper but not nearly as much so.
    Of course, this doesn’t help cooling requirements in the summer when electric rates are also higher. Doing some thermal efficiency/thermocouple checks on the A/C air duct system, I found significant losses (my A/C evaporator & furnace are installed in the attic). So a project which I am working on now is to wrap all the R-6 duct (ideal, probably more like R-4 under actual usage) and the plenum with R-30 (there is some compression when wrapping the ducts so this comes down to a combined estimated R25) and routing the evaporator drain line water back to the A/C condenser for additional cooling and efficiency gain there. If the gains meet expectations, then the electric savings should pay for the materials in 2-3 years at the new higher rates.

  12. kakatoa says:


    I don’t have natural gas service, but I understand that the rate structure for natural gas is like the one for electrical energy from PG&E: a progressive rate structure based on usage (tiers). It might be less expensive for your total energy expenses from PG&E to increase your natural gas usage to stay warm vs using the space heaters. How, and I guess why, PG&E sets natural gas prices are noted here-

    Click to access GRF0113.pdf

    If the difference between CARE rates and Non Care rates for energy continue with the rather large spread between Tier 3 usage prices, then I assume some enterprising folks are going to start finding ways to milk the system.

  13. crosspatch says:

    One notion that I have sort of had in the back of my head for a long time is a sort of home co-generation plant where one uses a water cooled generator running on natural gas (or gasoline or diesel). Imagine a home configured like an “off grid” system. I would use a bank of AGM batteries (practically indestructible, long life, extremely safe). The “house” basically runs off the the batteries at all times. The generator also acts as a heater with the hot water from the water jacket being run to a radiator with a fan inside the house (and there’s one outside, too, and you can divert the water to that one for summer time when you don’t want the heat in the house). If the house gets cold, the generator kicks on, provides some heat, and charges the batteries at the same time. The system IS still connected to the grid, though indirectly, by means of a charging controller.

    What makes this so appealing to me are a couple of things. With the advent of “smart meters” the power utility can jigger the price according to supply and demand of grid power. If the wind is blowing gangbusters in the middle of the night and the utility has a surplus of power at the moment, they could greatly reduce the price of power at that time. What is required is for your charging controller to know what the price of mains power is at any given point in time. In the case I just described where mains power suddenly falls due to oversupply from an intermittent source, my charging controller can sense that. If the cost of that power is less than the cost of running the generator, I can charge the batteries from the grid and run an electric heater. This allows me to “load shift” my house where my load on the grid is uncoupled from my actual usage. I can charge the batteries at night when power is cheap and use it during the day from the batteries when it is expensive. The second appealing thing about it is that once I have that charging controller, I can now hook my own solar PV and/or wind turbine to the system. If I get enough sunlight, I can further reduce my demand on the grid or generator or if it is a windy day, I can get some power that way also reducing my need to run the generator or sip power from the grid.

    This *also* allows me to build my storage capacity gradually. I can start with enough to run my home for, say, half a day, before I need to start the generator and charge up or sip power from the grid. I can increase that storage capacity as finances permit by adding AGM batteries to the bank. But the point where it really becomes economical is when the power utility charges different rates according to supply of power. In the daytime on a hot day, they might jack the cost of power up, everyone with such a system would have their charging controller note that fact and reduce the amount they are sipping from the grid or disconnect from the grid completely. Also, one can convert their home from demand load to base load where they simply draw an even amount of power all day long with no change in demand. You turn on your dryer, the draw from the mains doesn’t change. You simply draw more out of battery. If the cost of utility power drops, maybe you increase the amount you are taking out of the mains. In fact, you should be able to program in a fixed dollar amount you want to pay the electric grid and it should be able to adapt the system to use no more than that amount of power that month and make up the difference from the generator or your locally generated PV/wind power.

  14. Verity Jones says:

    Gas micro-CHP is coming. Plenty already doing it but still in infancy as far as commercial offerings go.

  15. J Martin says:

    If the cost of windmills and feedback tariffs are added to just electricity and not natural gas prices, then micro-CHP could quickly become attractive.

  16. J Martin says:

    DCHP Domestic Combined Heat & Power. Baxi £8500. Much too expensive.

  17. Gail Combs says:

    ChiefIO I just ran into this and though you might enjoy it.

    A petition to make the White House a ‘Gun-free Zone” just as our schools are

  18. Gail Combs says:

    John Robertson says:
    15 January 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Off topic, maybe.
    Was pondering what civilization is to me, insomnia to blame.
    Is it a shared illusion?
    If I believe I can trust the common institutions to protect my life and wealth, then I am free to build more.
    If I do not believe, then I put that energy into protecting me and mine.
    So a believable civilization, provides common benefit and increased productivity(new wealth)…
    Yes, You are correct.

    I was originally very enthusiastic about building my farm and the other aspects of my business but that was put on hold when I realized that the US government regulations would make it very very foolish for me to sell to the public. The US government killed dead three businesses, two going concerns and one in the planing stages. I am not alone. As far as I can tell the government’s real goal is wiping out small business and not protecting me and mine.

    I am also going through a court case of grand theft auto and getting nowhere fast. It has been close to ten years. I have another case I am loath to pursue that is a lease agreement where the guy walked off with the equipment. paid one months lease and has now sent ME A BILL for $10.000 in storage fees! I can not trespass on his fenced and locked lot to get my equipment back (illegal in this state) the district attorney isn’t interested and a lawyer will charge over $5,000 just to start taking the case to court. Tomorrow I call the state attorney general and see if I can get anywhere that way.

    So will someone tell me again why I am bothering to pay these A$$hats?

  19. E.M.Smith says:


    Our original ‘plan’ was about like yours and the ‘oil filled’ electric heaters payed for themselves many times over during prior decades of sane energy prices.

    Yes, for an actual installed system, I’d need to allow for flue losses. NOT for a “Coleman Lantern” as that, too, is 100% heat in the space (making even the light free…)

    As current domestic water heaters have condensing flues, those losses in a commercial system can be near nil. One simple option for me is to just install a couple of baseboard water radiators and plumb them to the domestic water heater (that is done commercially). Couple o hundred bucks. MUCH cheaper heat and “point source” in the two rooms that need it (i.e. where we’re sleeping when the house is shut down).

    That is what is more likely to happen. (Most likely is that I’ll just bitch about it and pay the bill… or move to Texas ;-) Then again, with nat gas at about $1.50 GGE even at residential rates, it’s a whole lot cheaper than those electrons… and a couple of pipes, circulating pump, and two baseboard radiators is darned easy to install…

    @John Robertson:

    I like the way you think when insomnia hits…

    “Marginal Utility of Government”… Hmmm… What happens when their marginal utility has become negative (they harm more than help) and their size is way past “economic scale” optimal? Are revolutions and social collapse driven by such an economic metric of governance… Hmmmm….

    On the DIY vs gov’t angel: It is now “way cheaper” for me to live in an RV / Caravan. As it makes its own heat and electricity and has no land property tax. Basically, the power bogosity and tax bogosity makes it more economical to NOT have a fixed address. I could buy an RV that “nobody wanted” since prices for gasoline are so high, park it in the driveway, and have lower cost power in that RV. (Propane and onboard generator if I captured the ‘waste heat’).

    Now if I get an acre of “stinking desert” somewhere and make my address not in this taxing authority, I avoid another 11% or so. Essentially, when the day comes to live on ‘fixed income’ it pays to leave / sell my home and become a vagabond. To become a high end “living out of their car” person… I could still hang out in California… when the weather is nice ;-)

    @Bloke Down The Pub:

    Used to be, but not any more. The Thorium was replaced some years back with ?Cerium? or some such similar metal. I stocked up a few of the old Thorium ones, though, so mine are a bit radioactive ;-) Then again, my front tooth was a ‘uranium enamel’ cap for about 35 years (recently replaced) so it’s not like I’m worried about a bit of radioactivity…

    @Verity & J. Martin:

    Honda has a great little unit… that they sell on the East coast of the USA but not in California. ( One can only presume they think California demand for heat is too low, and they are correct. In the Los Angeles basis you don’t need a heater almost all the time.)

    Thus my noting that I can make a “DIY” co-gen solution Redneck Style (from “junk” in the yard ;-)

    But yes, this puts a big pressure toward Cogen. Both commercial and DIY. Especially at larger scale shops. At Sun in Newark we were doing the networking as they built out the campus. Talking to the facilities guys, they bragged on their really big generators that were designed to run the campus any time PG&E was short of power. (This being just barely after Gov. Grey (out) Davis had us on rolling blackouts…) It is a very small step from “runs every afternoon” to “runs all winter”.


    The key thing about gas is not that it is similarly (stupidly) tiered. Rather that the cost of a therm ( 100,000 BTU so about 90% of a gallon of gas or 11% more than propane ) runs about $1 to $2 per Gallon Of Gas equivalent. And not likely to be going up with fracking gas everywhere. So all my numbers above on gasoline costs are about 1/2 that for nat gas. Which is why I’m pondering a nat gas generator in a cinderblock enclosure…



    Furthermore, you can do it very incrementally. During the Grey(out) Davis years, I had us on portable generator one too many times. Had little 1 kw or 1/2 kw “UPS” units on the electrics and a few key lamps throughout the house (so sometimes we only knew the power had failed by their soft chirping… I’d not yet umplugged their power fail chirpers…)

    On a major outage (more than it took for me to get tired of the chirps and / or finish my coffee ;-) I’d start the generator, umplug the UPS from the wall and plug it into the (pre-laid behind the furniture in the living room) drop cable and plug that into the generator out the back door. Lay and extra drop cord down the hall to the bedrooms if needed, and plug the fridge into it (usually at about the 1/2 hour mark if it got that far. Sometimes the 1 hour mark).

    IF your are thinking “that would get old quick” and “you had to do what?”, well, we did fire his ass in one of the few governor recalls ever… (But clearly most Californians have the memory of a goldfish as we have a Dimocrat Governor screwing around with the electricity supply again…)

    OK, I’d decided to ‘expand the system’ and make it a bit more permanent due to things looking like they were going to stay this way. I figured on a very gentle phased expansion.

    Note that in your cogen design, the ‘waste heat outdoors’ could also go into a ‘domestic water supply’. I suggest sizing a tank size where the incoming cold water gets warmed to about 50 C or 100 F under normal electric needs, 160 F under heavy demand. That water can then be used for normal hot water via the commercial heater or for space heating if desired.

    So I figured I’d leave the “major surge appliances” on wall power. AEK, washer / dryer, furnace, A/C (in the wall… not that hot here either ;-) That way it was basically not much at all to ‘move over’. Bought a 1 kW inverter for $60 or so at Costco and a battery box. Most ‘circuits’ here are 1500 W to 2 kW, so the inverter would not be overloading any circuit pushing too much power down it. Figured I’d just start swinging things over, one circuit at a time ( eventually putting in a couple of 2 kW inverters if I needed them) Just plug a ‘car battery charger’ into the wall to charge the battery box, and feed the circuit from batteries via the inverter.

    First to be done was just going to be the garage. (As a ‘demo’ and prototype / debugging). Only one wire comes in from the mains and easy to ‘cut off’ for everything but the washer / dryer cluster (that I wanted on a mains circuit anyway). Was just about to start ‘assembly’ when we swapped governors and the power stabilized…. Had not yet bought the batteries or I would have just gone ahead anyway…

    Eventual plan was a ‘stand alone’ box behind the house, and some big “jumper cords” to power each circuit from it. The charger for it plugged into one of the ‘surge demand’ lines. Whole thing such that I could pull some plugs and it would not be ‘part of the wiring’ then put a couple of breakers back in the service box and have a ‘normal’ home (in case I wanted to leave the State and take it with me…)

    The misc UPSs I’d gotten as various companies went out of business and I was doing “shutdowns” and they said “throw that stuff away”. Still have a stack of 3 or 4 of them “out back”, so getting 1 kW inverters with built in chargers for free was “easy” ;-) Batteries likely dead now, though.

    At any rate, for a more ‘professional’ solution, I’d do something like that, but ‘wired in’ and with a proper charge controller and a single large professional inverter. BUT, you can design it such that batteries can be added in ‘banks’ as capacity is needed and such that a given household circuit can be ‘swung over’ or not. Basically bifurcate the feed service box and have a ‘switch box’ that lets you swap circuits to the stand alone, or not. (Like in professional computer room UPS installs where you have a ‘bypass’ button that connects the room directly to the mains… which was where I got the idea from installing several of those…)

    Now you just add a ‘choice’ as to what is used to charge the batteries (that smart charge controller) and you are all done. “Whatever” power is cheap and available is directly used, or if economical given battery losses, goes into the batteries. When making your own power, the heat is all captured to a water “battery”. Demand for heat or power can be ‘swung’ back to “mains” if needed.

    Figured I’d slowly build up to that. Add a generator and water heat capture next to the inverter / battery box “someday” and then a computer driven controller to start / stop / switch the whole thing. ( Figured on baseboard water heat, that the house needs anyway.) Add banks of batteries as needed. “Eventually” putting the washer / dryer, A/C, and AEK on the generator and just firing it up as needed. Then PG&E would just be a ‘standby emergency battery charger’, if that…

    Well, who knows, with our Governor Moonbeam in charge I may get to build this yet. Might be a bit different now, since it is driven more by cost than stability. (Then I just wanted to stabilize with a battery buffer. Now it would be ‘heat capture and storage’ with generation power buffering and PG&E time shifting. Somewhat different design would be better. Cogen first, batteries as needed… charge controller only using wall power to charge the batteries when the cogen heat wasn’t needed and PG&E was lower cost – i.e. not just ‘have wall power’…)

    The things we do because Political Science Majors want to play Power Engineer and do it badly…

  20. crosspatch says:

    Note that in your cogen design, the ‘waste heat outdoors’ could also go into a ‘domestic water supply’. I suggest sizing a tank size where the incoming cold water gets warmed to about 50 C or 100 F under normal electric needs, 160 F under heavy demand. That water can then be used for normal hot water via the commercial heater or for space heating if desired.

    I had considered that but didn’t mention it because what happens in MOST cases is the heat would simply get wasted (though depending on where the water heater is, the escaping heat would still help things out in the house … or garage). What I think might work is a tank that acts as the supply tank for a demand heater system. So your coolant from the generator flows through a heat exchanger in a water tank that holds water distributed to demand heaters closer to point of use. The PROBLEM with that is having warm water in a tank is a breeding ground for legionella bacteria but a hot enough demand heater would kill the bacteria. Legionella is the major problem with domestic water heating applications. You actually can’t allow the water to get too cool, 130 is the minimum safe temperature. Legionella thrives at 80-90F.

  21. crosspatch says:

    So you have two thermostats in the cooling system. One that operates at about 100F that circulates water to the tank and a second that operates at 160F to let water dump to the external radiator (ultimate heat sink) or indoor radiator for heat whichever mode it is configured for.

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    @Gail Combs:

    It’s either small enough to take to small claims court or bit enough to be worth the lawyer fees.

    You didn’t state the value of the property. It might matter.

    At least in California, you can sue to “regain possession of the property” and do so in small claims court. A $20 or so fee gets the “service” done by the sheriff (so “guaranteed good service”). At that time, they don’t show, you win by default. They show, you have a lease contract and demand to “regain possession of the property”. They can try shoving a bogus “storage fee” at the court, but I doubt that would pass the ‘smell test’ of a demonstrated (even if only one) lease payment and a lease agreement (written or with a testimonial from a witness).

    As to why we pay them: Because we (presently) have no choice.

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    Legionella is aerobic. Domestic water ought to be anerobic in the pipes. Typical is to have “two water heaters” in series. First one takes ‘ground temp’ water ( 50 F or so) to whatever the (typically solar collector) low grade heat source provides. 100 F is good. Sometime 160 F… depending on the sun, typically. Then that water goes through the ‘regular water heater’ and gets topped up to 150 F or so in any case.

    I’m just saying swap in a motor-genset instead of the solar collector.

    I’d just heat the whole “first tank” to about 160 F and have IT have the outside radiator to dump excess and a 180 F or so thermostat… that would likely not get much use…

    Take room heat out of the “domestic heater” side. That way room heat is always available automatically at lowest cost. Domestic water is always as hot as it can be, and the motor is always feeding into the lowest heat sink.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ikea they have a lot of candles cheap:

    They have one unscented candle on sale at a new low price of $2 (really $1.99 but what’s the point…) Comparing it to others, it looks like it is a 45 hour candle (pillar).

    OK, assuming 80 W as the typical heat output of a normal candle (and we all know they are really all over the board, but that’s the standard size) most of the Ikea candles come out to 83 Cents / kW-hr. That one at the ‘new’ price is only 55 cents / kW-hr.

    That means that shortly, when we go past that 50 cent traunch for electricity, it will be cheaper to buy candles at Idea for heat and light than to use electricity…

    Maybe I need to figure out the cost of using tallow candles and home rendered fat. Figure out just when we blow through the 1800s and back into the 1600s…
    We’re on our way! /sarc;>

    So far natural gas is cheapest, liquid fuels not far behind, electricity being pushed out of the running. My Honda claims to run about 8 hours on a tank of gas that is, I think, about 900 ml. While making about a kW of power ( I’m sure that there are caveats I’m leaving out). But in this quick ‘thumbnail’ it’s looking like about 8 kW-hrs for 4.00 or 50 cents each. (Less than that now as it uses ‘regular’ that’s presently about $3.70 at the cheaper places). So when we hit the “next” tariff of the half buck, I’m slightly better off using my own gasoline generator “at the margin”. Even throwing away the heat.

    I once did a load of calculations on Diesel generators and found that the cost in cents per kW-hr was about the same as 1/10 the Diesel price. So $4.00 / gallon Diesel makes 40 cent / kw-Hr electricity (for the home sized units I was looking at.) That means that right now I’m all of about one cent from “better to make my own with Diesel” even using fully taxed retail road Diesel when at the top of the present price tiers. (that I fit inside).

    I think we’re starting to hit the monopoly price point. ( Where profit to the monopoly is maximized and the ‘alternatives’ are just barely out of reach).

    Wonder what it would take to put an add-on 5 kW generator on the old Benz Diesel…

  25. Gail Combs says:

    E.M.Smith says:
    16 January 2013 at 2:38 am

    @Gail Combs:

    It’s either small enough to take to small claims court or bit enough to be worth the lawyer fees.

    You didn’t state the value of the property. It might matter.
    You missed the point most people miss. (I did the first time round) If the guy is smart he has his assets tucked away and he is ‘Judgement proof’ I spent $5,000 the last time to get back my property which I sold for $4,000 and I have a ‘Judgement’ to cover court costs plus that is absolutely worthless because although the guy is wealthy the assets are in his sister’s name. GRRRrrr

    This time the property is worth $10K to 30K (an old semi & reffer) but the market is rotten so who knows if I can even sell it. The cost to get the damn thing is at least $6,000 for the first go round with the lawyer and if he appeals even more plus the cost to have it moved. So out of pocket ~ $7,500 which I DO NOT HAVE and the S.O.B knows it because I just fought off foreclosure. If I win I get a judgement of ~ $100,000 because he did not abide by the lease but again he has his wealth tucked away in another person’s name.

    That is why I am going to talk to the State Attorney General. Sending that return receipt requested letter demanding $10,000 for ‘storage’ on a truck he is leasing before he will allow me to come and get it has to have some sort of criminal charge attached. Mail Fraud at the least and perhaps extortion.

    If that does not work I will probably take him to court and represent myself the first go round or see if I can find a just out of school hungry lawyer.

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    I think you can still try small claims court. Just file for the one missed payment on the lease (that ought to be under the small claims amount) and “regain possession of my property” and see what happens. You are NOT suing for the value of the property, it is already yours, just for a specific finding that you may reclaim it.

    If you are lucky, the guy doesn’t show (not liking legal records…) and you get a default judgment.
    If he does show, and you have paperwork for a lease at all, I think it likely you win.

    Once the judgment is in, if you are then prevented your property, he is up for contempt of court.

    Worst thing that happens near as I can tell is you don’t win. As the $10k he’s asking for ‘storage’ is over small claims, I think (but might need checking) that the court can not assign you to pay it. So at most I think the judge says “take it to a higher court”.

    You really really want him to be a no-show as then you get summary judgment and can have the sheriff ‘help you collect’ ( if I remember the law right… it worked that way with houses, not so sure about trucks).

    At a minimum it gives the guy some heartburn when the sheriff delivers the summons. That’s what the $20 for “guaranteed good service” gets you. He can not play ‘I didn’t get served’… even if all the sheriff does is slide it under his locked door or nail it to a tree ( though I think they enjoy handing it to the person di-rectly ;-)

    Especially if the guy has any ‘reputation’ with the courts, they can have ‘flexibility’ in small claims that others can not. I saw someone get a ‘specific performance’ award in small claims with a similar presentation. (Not a truck, though). They sued for something like $1000 and the specific performance… Other guy was a no-show. Couple of sentences of “just looking for a specific performance finding so I can get my stuff’ and judge ‘so ordered’…

  27. j ferguson says:

    E.M. and comrades,
    I just finished replacing the engine on our little 4Kw genset – after 6,500 hours. Cost of parts and shipping was $3,000. I already had the necessary tools (when you get to 70, you may actually finally have acquired every tool you could ever need – too bad Sears) and i did the work myself – over three days. Right now, it is down in its soundproof enclosure in the bilge recharging our eight 6 volt lead acid golf cart batteries.

    We live on a boat, and are on a mooring or at anchor about 300 days/year. If we have not been moving the boat where the batteries are recharged by our dual alternator setup on the propulsion engine, we recharge them running the genset 4 hours a day. Our live-aboard life is not done at the camping out level – we have a conventional apartment refrigerator and use a lot of electricity in the course of the day.

    It took us 6 years to use up the last engine and about the same for the engine before that. Readers might suppose that this is a short life, and maybe it is, but had it been in a car it would have been well over 300k miles, and this is assuming that the car engine was running at least at 50% all the time, which clearly they seldom are. It’s true that you can get gensets whose engines well last longer, but they cost MUCH more and weigh MUCH more. Economics could be more reasonable for a stationary setup where weight is not an issue.

    Despite what you might have thought from automotive experience with AGM batteries, they do not have more charge-discharge cycles than lead acid, generally fewer. The golf cart type are good for about 1,000 deep discharge cycles (the kind you will have if you use them for anything useful) before it starts to take too long to recharge them. We pay less than $90 each for lead-acid. They generally last us about 3 1/2 years. AGM’s cost much more and would not last any longer.

    You may have sensed where i’m going, but to be blunt, if you think you can compete with PG&E while spending more than $1/kWh, you must be dreaming. If you want to have a stand-by setup, that’s another story, and could make a lot of sense.

    If you have a long heating season, you might do well with an oil or gas fired hydronics system with a very large well-insulated water tank with a big calrod in it. You could then use the meter you were discussing to buy electricity from the utility when you like their price. My brother had a system like this outside of Grand Marais, in northern Minnesota. He had a deal with the electric company that allowed them to take him off line at their convenience but with limitations. He also agreed to run it off-peak and got about a 40% cut in kWhr rates – I think he was paying $0.08/kWhr, but not certain. The beauty of this system was that his diesel fueled boiler ran on the same fuel his emergency gen-set ran on, the heated water in the storage tank kept his genset toasty so it would fire right away even in -50F, and he recovered the cost of the stuff he wouldn’t have otherwise done in a couple of years.

    If it was me, though and I didn’t have a long heating season, i might just go with the insulated storage tank and just buy electricity when it was cheap, or work out something with the utility – they don’t like to need to provide peak power infrequently, either.

    If anyone is interested, I can provide more detail.


  28. j ferguson says:

    Another setup which we are considering is adding solar panels on a to-be-designed aluminum tube frame to be attached to the radar arch. The idea is that the Genset provides the AC to run the battery charger for it’s full 110 amps for only the firs 1 1/2 hours. After that the multi-stage charger control steps down the charge rate as the batteries acquire a charge until it gets to about 20 amps after 3 1/2 to 4 hours. This means the load on the genset is about 5 amps, not much.

    What I’m considering is letting solar panels to finish the batteries from the point where the absorption is good enough to require lower charge rates. This might get the job done with say 350 nominal panel watts. Obviously I can adjust any shortfall with the genset, or buy more panels especially since they can now be found for a little over $1/watt.

    One other thing on batteries, the more the better since they provide longest service life and more cycle life if the draw down is not so deep, and the rate of draw distributed over more batteries. The number of batteries must be balanced against your capability to recharge them fully. If you don’t, and you are using lead acid, you will get sulfate build up which can be dealt with but sometimes not. We use a high-frequency de-sulfator on our bank, but I’m not positive it really helps .

    I think a combination like this would make a lot of sense for a remote installation, and likely reduce costly genset time.

  29. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Gail Combs
    Sorry to say, but you have been swindled by a professional and I see no good outcome.
    A number of years ago I had a somewhat similar experience with a Bay area businessman and the legal system there. If you bring small claim, the judge will set it aside as the thief will point to his larger counter claim for storage, If you try to go to real court you will spend more then it is worth to collect nothing and the thief knows it and he will offer to “0” his demand for storage in exchange for the property and there is the possibility that you will be judged to owe the storage that must be paid be for you can get the property back and it will be junk before you can get it. Your only hope for justice is the AG may decide this guy is a professional thief that He wants to Get. As soon as the guy refused to pay or return the the property you should have reported it stolen and got the criminal system involved before this guy could establish standing of possession. I would avoid the civil court in the Bay Area as it is plugged full of cases and very expensive and this guy is a pro at gaming that system. Depends on how valuable this is to you to get satisfaction. Good luck. pg

  30. Roger Sowell says:

    E.M, first, congrats on your calculations. Not many people can get those done correctly unless they are an engineer.

    I also would make the point about the heater efficiency. That number of 111,400 Btu per gallon is based on a flue gas temperature of 150 deg C, or 302 deg F. If the flue gases are piped outside, the heat released into the house will be substantially less than 111,400 Btu per gallon burned.

    My preferred way to beat the power company is to install hot water radiators. One simply pipes hot water from the home’s hot water heater to the radiator. A return line is required, and some sort of collecting tank with a small pump to return the water to the hot water heater.

    If the hot water heater uses gas, and is fairly new so it is relatively efficient, the cost of delivered heat is much cheaper than the gasoline heater.

    For perspective, compare natural gas and gasoline. Gas to the home runs about $10 to $15 per million Btu. PG&E charges about $12 at the moment for residential customers.

    Gasoline though, at $4 per gallon and 100 percent furnace efficiency is $36 per million Btu.

    Hot water radiators are the way to go, in my opinion.

  31. says:

    What a good analysis of the economic impact of all of the environmental regulation unintended consequences. While most of the utility companies use the “environmental regulations” excuse to jack up rates unfairly, nonetheless the rates go up. (Seems odd to me that record profits are recorded, at the same time that the utility companies are complaining about the regulations). In my opinion those utility companies bear some responsibility when a kerosene heater burns down some low income family’s apartment.

  32. Great post! i have used a wood burning stove for heating my mountain cabin. It has the added benefit obviously, of being used for cooking, not to mention the fact that the family gathers around it in the evenings. Its best to use stove top fan or a wood stove fan that can move the heat once the stove reaches a pre-set temperature. This takes the heat and moves it beyond what would otherwise be the range of the heat produced by the stove.

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